Guest Blog by Jenifer Ringer Fayette -Dean of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute at The Colburn School
I became a professional ballerina because of The Nutcracker. As a child, I watched a TV special featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland in the well-known holiday ballet, and from then on, did not stop dancing around the house on my toes until my mother enrolled me in ballet classes. After that fateful moment, The Nutcracker became a regular part of my Decembers, and I progressed from dancing children’s roles such as Doll and Star and Candy Cane, to a long list of professional roles—Maid, Parent, Grandmother, Snowflake, Hot Chocolate, Marzipan, Flower, Dewdrop and, finally, Sugar Plum Fairy—during my 24-year career with the New York City Ballet.
After I retired, I never expected to be professionally involved in The Nutcracker again. But then something happened: The Music Center President & CEO Rachel Moore decided to bring Miami City Ballet’s new production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, the preeminent version of the ballet, to The Music Center for the holidays. To give this new Nutcracker a deep connection to Los Angeles, Ms. Moore wanted to use local children to dance the 70 very difficult children’s roles.
This is where my children and I come into the picture. Well, they are not all really my children—only one of them is related to me—but they are my students. I am dean of Colburn School’s dance program, and we are providing the children for this production, along with students from the Gabriella Foundation. These young men and women have been working since June 2017 on the very challenging choreography, and I could not be prouder of them all.
Being a child performer in Balanchine’s Nutcracker is a big deal and a daunting undertaking. It is like a young music student being asked to perform with the LA Phil at The Music Center’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. Few of these children have performed in a professional production of this scope, but my Colburn children have amazed me every step of the way.
After two summer workshops to teach our students the Nutcracker choreography, we held an audition. Not everyone got a role, but accepted the decision with grace. Some did not get the role they wanted, but they still come to rehearsals, do their best with a good attitude and work to improve so they might get the role they want next year. Since late August, we have worked every weekend without fail for multiple hours each day.
We have even made recordings of our ballet mistress’s instructions accompanying the Nutcracker music, and parents are using them to help train their children at home during the week in between rehearsals (there is a special place in heaven for the Nutcracker parent).
Soon, in December, my Colburn children will hide under an 80-pound dress worn by a man on stilts, do battle with giant rats, portray angels gracefully framing a real Sugar Plum Fairy and go to a Christmas party from another era filled with magic and miracle. These children will remember this experience forever. And I wonder—for how many of them will this Nutcracker dream turn into the reality of a life in professional dance?
I can’t wait to find out. Let the Nutcracker magic and memories begin!